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Premiership Rugby hero story: Dawda's HITZ journey

Seventeen-year-old Dawda Darboe is on a very different path to the one he was treading this time last year.

Originally from Gambia, Dawda moved to Knowle, Bristol at the age of five but was forced to move back to his place of birth after encountering trouble in school and family tragedy. He returned to the UK after two and a half years in 2017 to live in Shirehampton with his sister but had no plan for his future until being introduced to the HITZ programme.

“I wanted to go back into education but because it was easier to be lazy and spend all day playing Fortnite, I didn’t do that,” Dawda said. He struggled with low self-esteem, which led to his acting up.

“In 2019, I had the opportunity to start up in education again and my support worker Hettie introduced me to the HITZ programme.”

The programme works with over 2,000 14-18 year-olds across England’s 12 professional rugby clubs every year, helping children not involved in employment or education to get back on track. HITZ offers a relaxed environment for learners to improve their functional English and maths, develop valuable life skills and work towards gaining qualifications and work placements.

Dawda is now completing his Employability Level 1 course with the Bristol Bears branch of the programme, which has also inspired him to join his local rugby club Avonmouth RFC. He is now aiming for a spot in the first XV in his favoured wing position this year and admits that since starting the course in September, he’s come a long way professionally and personally.

HITZ is one of Premiership Rugby’s Community programmes that together form the Plan to Improve a Million Lives. This ambitious community strategy is Premiership Rugby’s commitment to make a positive impact, through rugby, on the lives of one million people by the end of the 2020/21 season. Dawda is one of those people.

Ben Woolfson, one of Dawda’s tutors, says one of the programme’s great strengths is the diversity of their nine students since the club’s programme launched in September last year.

“We’re trying to give these students confidence so they can go out and take up as many of life’s opportunities as possible,” he said.

“Some of our students have a range of learning difficulties and additional needs but it’s been so impressive bringing all of these types of students together and seeing what they learn from each other.”

Dawda agrees. “The programme and meeting other people like me really helped. I’ve learned how to build my CV and where to go looking for jobs, improve my interview skills and plan for career progression,” he said.

“I’m applying for warehouse jobs at the minute, so long-term I’m still not sure what I want to do. As an individual I tend to keep to myself, but this course has allowed me to open up a lot more and be more trusting towards people so I’m sure opportunities will open up.”

Funded by partners Land Rover and Wooden Spoon and delivered by Bristol Bears and other Premiership Rugby club Community departments across the country, HITZ uses rugby’s core values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship to get young people not in education, training or employment (NEET) back into education, training, apprenticeships and/or employment

To find out more about the Plan to Improve a Million Lives, follow #ImproveAMillionLives and visit